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Booze, Sweetie

Apparently, the good folks over at Anchor Distilling (by way of Wagstaff Worldwide) know I like booze. Good booze, specifically. And lately they've been gracious enough to invite me to a few events to sample some of their wares. 

Back in August we went to Wingtip, the très swank private club in the Financial District, to meet a cocktailian legend, Alessandro Palazzi of the DUKES Hotel in London. The DUKES garnered a fair bit of fame by being the regular haunt of none other than Sir Ian Fleming himself, and it is believed that it is where he acquired the inspiration for James Bond's propensity for martinis "shaken, not stirred." (Though, in fact, Bond is at least as famous for creating a cocktail all his own, the Vesper.) Palazzi was here to showcase his take on the classic,  dubbed the DUKES Classic Dry Martini.

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Palazzi, a slight man in a dapper white shawl-collar tux, wheeled up a wooden cart adorned with just a bowl of Meyer lemons, a crystal bottle with a shaker top, containing his house vermouth, and a bottle of No. 3 Gin (represented by Anchor Distilling). No. 3 is a London Dry Gin which starts out as a neutral spirit infused with botanicals including the classic juniper, angelica and sweet orange peel, but somewhat uniquely also grapefruit peel, lending a fresher citric edge. Speaking softly with a pronounced Italian accent, Palazzi explained that he uses No. 3 in combination with citrus, specifically Amalfi lemons from Italy back in London, as opposed to the classic olives to enhance the natural citrus aromas in the gin. (The recipe is on the No. 3 Gin site.) Out of respect for local ingredients, and because you cannot bring lemons into the state of California, he used meyers on this day. 

Two bracingly chilled cocktail glasses were delivered from the bar. At the DUKES, cocktail glasses are chilled in the freezer at least 24 hours; this chills the cocktail right in the glass, eliminating the need for stirring or shaking, and thereby not diluting the cocktail. A scant few dashes of house vermouth went into the glass, swirled around the interior, and in went the gin. He cut a slice of lemon rind, twisted it over the top to release the oils, and dropped it in. Like so:

I am certain that Bond would approve. 

Anchor Distilling has also recently begun to represent Tempus Fugit Spirits, makers of classic amari, liqueurs, absinthes, cremes and, now, vermouths. They hosted an event in their private bar on the rooftop of the Anchor Brewing building in Potrero Hill.  (My friend Emily was there, too.)

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Founder John Troia was on hand to talk about the product line, of course, but much more than that. Troia is a treasure trove of information on vintage European spirits, many of which Tempus Fugit is bringing back from the virtual grave. One of them, Gran Classico, has been a mainstay in our house for years. Modeled after a defunct recipe for Torino Gran Classico, a classic amaro from Turin, it comes off initially with a similar bitter-sweet balance as others like Campari, but far more complex. I was not as familiar with the rest of their offerings, but I certainly am now. 

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Plasma Mary

Plasma Mary

A couple months ago, Rosie at 18 Reasons pinged me, asking whether I'd be interested in teaching a Bloody Mary class, accompanying a display of local illustrator Kelly Lynn Waters' delightful illustrations of Bloody Marys (Maries?) from restaurants and bars around town. The teacher they had initially lined up couldn't make it, leaving a gap. I'd taught two infusions and liqueurs classes there already, with another on the books, and so I suppose I'd acquired the ad hoc mantle of Mr. Booze. Without putting much thought into it, I replied that I would. 

Of course, there was one small wrinkle: I really don't like Bloody Marys. 

I do, however, like to challenge my palate from time to time and try to conquer my culinary disinclinations. (Still haven't gotten over that orange thing yet. That's a stubborn one.) So I took this as an opportunity to explore what really makes a bloody mary, and what exactly I didn't like.

On the surface, I should love them. They're savory, spicy, full of umami, and heaven knows my tomato consumption can be nothing less than epic. But in fact, it's the tomatoes that were the issue. Or, rather, tomato juice. More specifically, the thick, mealy goo that tastes like the can it's purchased in. Yes, that was surely the root of the problem.

I decided that for the class, we would explore a little of its history starting with its invention at Harry's New York Bar in Paris in 1921, peppering it with three versions of the drink. First, would be a straight-up classic version, using predictable ingredients like the aforementioned dreaded canned tomato juice. For the second, we'd juice fresh tomatoes, give it a little more spice and spike it with clam juice to make a Caesar, the official drink of Canada. Finally, I would solve the problem of the cocktail, eschewing tomato juice altogether for a thinner essence of tomato and an infused vodka, served up in a cocktail glass. This, I dubbed the Plasma Mary, since it lacked the thick redness of tomato juice and instead is a cheery, clear yellow. 

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Punch drunk at Smuggler’s Cove

Tiki ©DPaul Brown

A few months ago, we made an investment in our cocktailian education by attending the Beverage Academy Tiki class at Bourbon & Branch. The good professor Martin Cate, formerly of Forbidden Island, waxed eloquent on the rise and fall of tiki culture in America.

Beginning with Don the Beachcomber's 1934 Hollywood début and the advent of Victor "Trader Vic" Bergeron's empire of restaurants, tiki joints held the promise of something exotic and fun, a dose of escapism in a novelty mug. After World War II, soldiers came back with stories from the south seas, and tiki bars blossomed like island hibiscus all over the country. We were held rapt as Martin stepped through slides with images from the original haunts, decorated with palm fronds and fishermen's nets.

Martin's Power Point-fu was complemented by more practical learnings: Hands-on instruction on making classic tiki cocktails.

At their most basic, tiki drinks are punches and can trace their roots to the classic Planter's Punch. According to Wikipedia, the first known print reference was in the August 8, 1908 edition of The New York Times:

PLANTER'S PUNCH

This recipe I give to thee,
Dear brother in the heat.
Take two of sour (lime let it be)
To one and a half of sweet,
Of Old Jamaica pour three strong,
And add four parts of weak.
Then mix and drink. I do no wrong —
I know whereof I speak.

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Thin Mint Julep

Thin mint julep

This beyond-awesome illustration courtesy of graphic designer and cocktail blogger Dr. Bamboo.

Do I really need to break down where the inspiration for this cocktail came from? Fine, okay, I was eating Thin Mint cookies while drinking bourbon. Oh, like you haven’t.

Anyway, this is a drink recipe that practically writes itself. After all, if my cocktail math is right:

  • Mint + bourbon = mint julep = yum
  • Mint + chocolate = Thin Mint cookie = yum
  • Chocolate + bourbon = just plain old yum

So, applying the law of conservation or whatever, that’s, like, yum cubed. I may be wrong on that, since they didn’t teach cocktail math in my high school, which is just one more reason why I don’t need to relive those years.

My first attempt at building this recipe involved making my own chocolate liqueur, made with a mint-infused simple syrup, and muddling mint leaves in the glass. The end result was fine, if rather … subtle. But sometimes subtle is highly overrated. I mean, this is a cocktail modeled after a Girl Scout cookie, fercryinoutloud. Do you think they sell hundreds of thousands of boxes of cookies with subliminal advertising and gentle hints? No, they cast their doe eyes on you and beat you over the head with their cuteness. Subtle ain’t exactly the name of the game.

I knew this much; I wanted the drink to have a rich chocolate base and a clean peppermint high note. Casting artisanal ingredients and techniques out the window, I went straight for the peppermint schnapps — which our local booze store doesn’t even stock, it’s so lowbrow. I also invested in some crème de cacao, but opted for the good stuff since that’s something that might actually have an application in a future drink. (For the record, as far as I can tell, there is no “good stuff” when it comes to peppermint hooch.) Et voilà — one of America’s favorite cookies in cocktail form. Bottoms up!

So promise me this: When this gets picked up and becomes the hottest girl drink of 2009 and is sold prefab in bottles and poured directly from spigots and is converted into one of those frozen slushie cocktails served from a churning machine, remember that you read it here first. Scout’s honor?

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Daiquiri days and tiki nights

Daiquiri

Food and drink bloggers tend to be a merry lot; DPaul and I are certainly not alone in our pursuits of things hedonistic. It generally takes little provocation to get a group of local bloggers to assemble to consume something of interest, in groups large or small.

Last year, Jen organized a come-as-you-are series of outings to case out the various bars and beverages featured in the 2008 edition of Food & Wine Cocktails, 17 of which were from Bay Area locales. A schedule was built, and week after week a cadre of bloggers and booze enthusiasts traipsed to watering holes in San Francisco and beyond in search of these rarefied concoctions. So regular and assiduously attended were these events, they became referred to as our "book club."

Sadly, as it turned out, relatively few of the cocktails in the book were available for the tasting. It stands to reason in an artisanal cocktail center like San Francisco that menus change with the moods and seasons, but some instances were just outright silly. At one location, the cocktail was on the menu, but is apparently never actually served, since they don't stock one key ingredient, a Belgian Trappist ale, that is both perishable and expensive. In one other case, the cocktail was not — and had actually never been — on the menu. Of the comparatively few cocktails featured in the book that were of offer, some were simply disappointing, though often there were superior drinks available at those locations. Ultimately, only a few stood out; my personal favorite was the Tommy Gun at Bar Drake.

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Bicicletta

Bicicletta

Hey, we only get so many hot days a year here in San Francisco, so when the season approaches, I like to be prepared and have a cooling cocktail at the ready. Last year, it was all about the michelada. But as the summer came to a close, and we journeyed to perhaps the hottest place of all, Palm Springs, I enjoyed a spectacularly refreshing drink at Spencer’s, called the Bicicletta.

The drink is simplicity itself, just Campari, white wine and a spritz of club soda, but the whole is more than the sum of its parts. I am fond of Campari in general, but especially on hot days. Aside from memories of sweltering days on the Amalfi Coast, I find that Campari actually has a cooling effect. The white wine rounds out the cocktail, mellowing the intense bittersweet of the amaro, and of course the club gives it a fizzy kick. They are surprisingly easy to sip on during the dog day afternoons when nothing else is feasible. Luckily, the club soda and ice ensure that you can do so without getting completely fuore come un balcone.

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Levriero

For my third guest-blog post in Married ...with Dinner's illustrious Drink of the Week feature, I unveil a new cocktail concocted for Reese's birthday party, the Levriero. After all, I simply had to do something with all that pompelmocello. Read…

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Tasting 2007

The end of the year is a natural point of reflection. Lately I've been thinking back on some of the more delicious memories of 2007, new and interesting experiences all. I'll present them here, in no particular order: Grilled squid…

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I have good friends

Last weekend, my darling husband hosted a cocktail party in my honor of my thirty-somethingth birthday. I had a lovely time, mingling with my bestest friends and nibbling on nummy noshes courtesy of DPaul. I received several lovely gifts, but…

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Mi/chelada

Michelada

Seems the drink du jour in the media these days is the michelada. Aside from the beauty shot in this month’s GQ, there’s equally mouthwatering references on pretty much all my favorite boozy blogs:

  • MattBites finds it the only way to enjoy his cerveza;
  • Sloshed! sampled three different beers just to be thorough;
  • The Spirit World eyes a couple alternative preparations;
  • Anita at Married …with Dinner delved into its history last Turkey Day; and
  • Camper was way ahead of the curve, calling this drink’s rising star fully two years ago, and is now on a campaign to bring it back as a brunch favorite.

The timing was good. With an upcoming visit to the in-laws in Kentucky (where we are now) this struck me as the perfect beverage to ply on less-than-experimental palates. With an ingredient list of un-scary and familiar ingredients — Mexican beer, lime, Worcestershire and Tabasco, basically — it promised nothing less than refreshing goodness for the inevitable hot, muggy days.

Alas, my cool micheladas were met with a tepid response. No one — including DPaul — liked the flavor the Worcestershire sauce imparted. To which I say, ¡más micheladas para mí! Personally, I thought the balance of sour-salty-hot was perfectly delicious, and certainly slapped a hearty coat of red lipstick on the Corona pig. It’s a quaffable, refreshing brew that I could happily kick back more than a couple of on a sultry afternoon. Still, I will admit it pays to have a light hand with the Worcestershire.

I look forward to trying this again with Negro Modelo, my preferred Mexican beer. I would have used it this time, but our options out here in the wilds of Kentucky are … limited. And for DPaul, I’ll just pull back on the Worcestershire and Tabasco for the classic chelada. (Actually, he rather liked the Tabasco. So does that make it a semichelada?)

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